Comment on Mind - The need for a new model

Spaceweaver Fri, Jun 12, 2009
Self-Evolving: Welcome back and thanks for your interest and your questions. I will try to start answering them.

Which is what exactly?? And why/how is it obsolete? Do you mean the idea that the "the mind is what the brain does" conception?

Our current theory of mind is not a coherent and consistent body of knowledge. It is rather a huge collection of common sense knowledge, beliefs, assumptions and wishful thinking very sparsely patched by pieces of good philosophy and good science. Actually there is no coherent theory that describes what is mind. There isn't even a beginning of a research program framing how the investigation of mind can be approached. I believe neuroscience to be an essential key to the understanding of mind, yet the neural correlates of the mind are far from being the whole story, and sometime it feels as if the study of mind was literally hijacked by fMRI imaging... Moreover, the mind being the very organ of cognition and thought cannot be approached as yet another phenomenon where the standard methods of science can apply without second thought. I have much to add here but will try to keep it relatively short.

There are many aspects of our current concept of mind which are obsolete. One of the primary ones is what I would call 'a paradigm of separation' also mentioned in the quote by G. Bateson mentioned in the post. Our very cognitive apparatus is build upon subject-object separation which seems to have a progressively destructive consequences as our existence becomes more complex. Another aspect is the belief that the mind is entirely a product of the brain. This is a very limiting assumption. Not that I wish to introduce here non physical elements, not at all. But questions like whether societies have a collective mind, or whether the web has or might have a mind, or whether a complex ecology is a mindful entity, or what would amount to a mind in future artificial intelligences and cybernetic organisms, cannot be answered from within the current models. These are questions we would certainly like to try and answer; in fact, very shortly we will need to answer them.

In other words, how will the average Joe that does not even care enough to pick up a newspaper be influenced by some breakthrough theory of mind? And if the average person does not attend to it, then what be its effectiveness?

This is a very good question, which is certainly present in my thoughts. Indeed it seems that dealing with the mind is hugely removed from our very pressing here and now issues. But I do not think so. I argue that the majority of problems in the world today are only symptoms of something which goes much deeper and is much less apparent. These symptoms, it seems, can be traced back to our most primal patterns of perception and minding. Territoriality, greed, prejudice, and exaggerated self interest on the expanse of others, are all products of obsolete patterns of minding. Current theories of evolutionary psychology are trying to understand such patterns and other aspects of human psychology in terms of evolutionary processes. While this kind of research is producing some very valuable insights, it depicts the average human as a product of a millennia of adaptation. It does not emphasize properly the nearly limitless potential of transformation resulting from the general plasticity of our highly evolved neural systems (let alone possible augmentation by technological means). This direction certainly does not favor the image of mind as capable of a radical change in the course of the life time of an individual.

Who is average Joe? Average Joe is a mind product of culture, education, communication between humans, beliefs, behavioral patterns, emotional stances etc. Average Joe is an instance of our collective mind model. Change the model, Joe is transformed. This is indeed a complex and large scale process, which I believe can, at least in part, be guided by a vision.

Such transformative processes, guided by vision can be extremely effective. See for example how our idea about aging, so deeply rooted, is recently shifting. Aging that once was believed to be an inevitable natural process (like childhood), is slowly shifting to become an array of health conditions that might one day be cured to the effect of a radical life extension. A whole belief system is shifting; and why? Have we found the fountain of youth? Certainly not. This is a change in image initially propagated by a relatively small number of visionaries. It starts with a dream of an individual and eventually it reaches, or better, it becomes average Joe, because average Joe whether he knows that or not is endowed with very high level of mind plasticity. It is quite easy for average Joe to change, as strange as it might sound. Once an aspect of our mind model, even a single image changes, large scale changes will ensue.